The externship program at the UW College of Law is a great way for students to gain real-world experience while also earning course credit towards their law degree. The College of Law benefits from a robust number of externship opportunities throughout Wyoming and the region, providing our students with the skills they need in order to be successful in their careers. The externship program also allows them to sample the many pathways that exist within the legal profession.
One of the most recent externship opportunities is with the City Attorney’s Office here in Laramie. There, students have the opportunity to see attorneys in action on a number of cases in violation of Laramie’s municipal code.
Holli Austin-Belaski, the Assistant City and Prosecuting Attorney, has been the supervisor for the participating UW extern students.
“The City of Laramie Attorney’s Office is thrilled to support the externship program at the UW College of Law,” she says. “Extern students in our office get the opportunity to research current legal issues and observe the legal proceedings in the Laramie Municipal Court – including scheduling conferences, arraignments, bench trials and jury trials.”
The first student to extern in their office was Nathalia Collins (J.D. ’16). Originally from Venezuela, Collins moved to the United States when she was 8 years old and was raised in south Florida. She graduated from Florida State University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social sciences. Impressed by the number of practical opportunities available at Wyoming, she chose to attend the College of Law knowing that she would gain on the job training along with her education.
“The experience in the City Attorney’s Office was fantastic,” says Collins. “I was able to watch a lot of arraignments, motions hearings, continuances, and change of pleadings. Concurrent with my externship I also took trial practice so I was able to use the skills that I learned in that class and apply them to the bench trials that I eventually got to do in Municipal Court.”
From start to finish, Collins completed eight bench trials on her own, and had a 100% conviction rate. Having the time in court was an invaluable experience. She feels that the experience really set her apart from many of her peers, and has provided her with confidence that will help her in practice.
“Now that I know how to conduct a bench trial I won’t feel scared or intimidated,” she says. “It allows you to do real work under an attorney and they’ll show you how to do things, and tell you if you make a mistake or do something wrong.”
The experience in the courtroom paid off for Collins. Since graduating, she is now clerking for the Honorable Richard A. Simonton in the 7th Judicial District of Montana.
Currently externing in the Office is second-year law student Ryan Gallagher. Gallagher is originally from Boston, Mass. He came to Wyoming after completing his undergraduate degree at St. Joseph College in Maine.
According the Austin-Belaski, Gallagher has already researched extensive issues relating to DWUI sentencing, he has researched a constitutional issue, and has observed numerous trials.
“Working in the City of Laramie Attorney’s Office has been a really rewarding experience for me already,” says Gallagher. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Ms. Austin-Belaski on some arraignments, and some research that was sent to the Supreme Court. I feel like I’ve already learned so much, and look forward to being able to try a case in the future.”
Gallagher also pointed out another important lesson gained from the externship that is often overlooked, the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
“Everyone in the office is really family-oriented so it’s been really refreshing to see how the attorneys balance their work and home-life efficiently,” says Gallagher. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the work and the example that the attorneys set in making their families a priority too is a lesson that can’t be found in a law book.”
In addition to the externship, Ryan has been busy during his law school career. He has participated in the Richard E. Day Client Counseling Competition, the Negotiations Competition, the Delta Theta Phi law fraternity, and he runs the law school sports teams. Additionally, he will be participating in the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic in the spring.
The College of Law has an extensive list of externship partners, and is grateful to participating organizations and offices for their guidance and instruction. Students consistently report positive feedback about their externship experience and have flourished from opportunities like the City Attorney’s Office. It is the hope that the feeling is mutual.
“I have been impressed with all of the students that have externed with me,” says Austin –Belaski. “Our office will continue to support the externship program and look forward to continuing to work with the students in the program.”